Just like Major League Baseball, World Wrestling Entertainment has their own minor league system to develop the future stars. With the emergence of the WWE Performance Center in Florida and the evolution of NXT becoming something that feels more than the minor leagues of WWE, there is a lot to look forward to within the next five years of watching Raw and SmackDown Live.
Earlier in 2017, fans saw the WWE call up names who have become main event contenders like Shinsuke Nakamura and Samoa Joe. There have also been other talents who provide depth and the mid-card rank in WWE like “The Perfect 10” Tye Dillinger. Even the women’s division has grown stronger in recent years with call-ups from NXT like Alexa Bliss, Charlotte and Sasha Banks.
Now with Bobby Roode making his glorious debut on SmackDown Live and the feeling that Asuke will make the jump to Raw after recovering from her recent injury, now is the time to look at who should be the next in line for a call to the big leagues of sports entertainment. But with calling up superstars from NXT, there are some gifted superstars who could use being designated for assignment back to the WWE Performance Center.
It could be a need for repackaging a superstar who has grown stale within the WWE Universe. Sometimes, a change in scenery and a chance to test different things out can be a good thing for a superstar. Or maybe, some superstars who don’t have a lot going for them on the main roster could benefit from some new and exciting rivalry opportunities with the always evolving NXT roster.
The following list looks at eight NXT superstars who the WWE will likely call up to the main roster and seven who would benefit from a trip back to NXT.
15 Called Up – No Way Jose
If the WWE wants to bring in a new main roster superstar who can be a favorite among the kids, look no further than No Way Jose. While he’s likely never going to be the kind of superstar who can be booked as a main event contender with the current gimmick, he’s the kind that can easily be a hit at live televised shows. Especially if the WWE goes with the idea of him selecting random fans for an impromptu conga line with members of the WWE Universe.
The odds are that the fans will likely sing along with his theme music while he dances to and in the squared circle. While he might not be the first name that comes to mind when selecting future NXT call-ups, No Way Jose would be a good choice the night after WrestleMania 34. This gives him some time in NXT to have a few more quality feuds to help build his stock for a main roster debut.
14 Sent Down – Aiden English
There’s nothing wrong with being the relegated jobber on the main roster for the likes of newcomer Bobby Roode on SmackDown Live. But there’s a lot of talent with someone like Aiden English that shouldn’t be wasted on a spot that is meant for someone like Curt Hawkins. While he was called up from NXT with then-WWE superstar Simon Gotch to team as the Vaudevillians, English can focus on developing a singles character that can be improved in developmental.
An idea to help English’s character is maintain the confident thespian who could have some of the characteristics used by the former Damien Sandow. Have English become more than a talented singer with quotes from Shakespeare. Allow him to speak down to the WWE Universe in an effort to build up his heel levels. The coaches in NXT can help him improve on his overall in-ring techniques and English could get the seasoning to have more main roster success the second go-around.
13 Called Up – SAnitY
There is a depth problem when it comes to Raw’s tag team division. With Seth Rollins and Dean Ambrose currently at the top of the division as champions with Cesaro and Sheamus up there with them, there are not a lot of teams compared to what SmackDown Live has on their side of the main roster. It’s unlikely for Curtis Axel and Bo Dallas to actually be a tag team competing for the Raw Tag Team Championship, and The Revival is on hiatus with Scott Dawson’s bicep injury.
The Authors of Pain are still young and could use some more time in NXT. The only tag team that would seem ready for a main roster call-up would be SAnitY. Eric Young, a seasoned veteran like recent call up Bobby Roode, and Alexander Wolfe recently won the NXT Tag Team Championship at TakeOver: Brooklyn III. But they could drop the titles to the team of Bobby Fish and Kyle O’Reilly. Young and Wolfe, along with the monstrous Killian Dain, could be a legitimate triple threat on the Raw roster.
12 Sent Down – Apollo Crews
The former Uhaa Nation is certainly one of the most gifted athletes in WWE. But athletic skills can only get someone so far in the WWE. Sure, he’s been able to stay relevant – somewhat – in the Titus Brand stable led by Titus O’Neil. However, he really never spent an adequate amount of time in NXT and the WWE Performance Center. He was signed in 2015, but didn’t start competing on NXT television until later that year.
He was one of the names who was called up to the main roster after WrestleMania last year. It seemed like it was a little quick and he hasn’t quite been able to stand out for anything other than his ability to mix power and agility in a unique move set. While some might view a designation to NXT as an unwarranted punishment, Crews does need to improve his on-screen charisma and could do the work down in Florida.
11 Called Up – Nikki Cross
Why would Nikki Cross have her own spot on the call-up list when she’s currently a member of the SAnitY faction? Because Cross doesn’t really need to be part of a group to be an effective superstar on the main roster. While she hasn’t been able to win the NXT Women’s Championship – which could change with Asuke vacating the title – she has shown to be one of the WWE’s best female talents currently in development.
The belief is that Asuke will be joining the Raw roster when she recovers from the collarbone injury suffered at TakeOver: Brooklyn III. And one can speculate that Ember Moon might be the next person to reign in NXT’s women’s division. Cross can provide something a little different than what is currently on SmackDown Live’s women’s roster. Consider her almost a lunatic similar to Dean Ambrose on Raw. She could certainly be an interesting opponents for the likes of Charlotte Flair, Carmella and current SmackDown Women’s Champion Natalya.
10 Sent Down – Bayley
In only a year, Bayley went from having a tremendous pop from the crowd upon her debut last summer to being booed during a “goodbye” segment due to a shoulder injury. While the WWE officials might be upset by the fans turning on someone who they considered a fan-favorite, the fans turning on her has more to do with the WWE not really handling her properly in terms of booking. The WWE didn’t really do a great job of handling her after her call-up, despite the WWE having a virtual slam dunk who would be a big hit with the young fans and even have the respect among the adults in the WWE Universe.
She hasn’t been able to have the longer matches like she did in NXT, where she was a star that helped build a strong women’s developmental division. But they took away that loveable underdog factor without a real rival – which a heel turn by Sasha Banks would have done to give them a memorable feud like they had in NXT a few years ago.
9 Called Up – Hideo Itami
Maybe it’s true that Hideo Itami has not had a great run overall in NXT. He’s never been able to win the NXT Championship, but he’s had some amazing matches with the likes of Bobby Roode and Kassius Ohno. Giving an effective striker like Itami a heel turn is actually a very bright move by WWE’s part. One would hope that if the rumored report of Itami coming to the WWE main roster is true, he will be able to maintain that mean streak for what could, at the very least lead to an Intercontinental or United States Championship run.
Itami would likely have the better chance to flourish in the SmackDown Live roster. The potential dream matches for Itami is a list that includes A.J. Styles, Sami Zayn and even fellow Japanese superstar Shinsuke Nakamura. The latter would be a great option as someone Itami never faced in the one-on-one format.
8 Sent Down – Mike Kanellis
For years, there was a lot of hope seeing the WWE someday sign Mike Bennett. The former Ring of Honor and TNA wrestler did in fact get a chance to debut in the WWE. However, it just wasn’t the ways fans were expecting. Bennett came out last July during the Money in the Bank pay-per-view along with his real-life wife Maria – a former WWE women’s superstar from 2004 to 2010. They were billed as Mike and Maria Kanellis; taking the wife’s maiden name. Apparently, the WWE didn’t feel the name Mike Bennett would be recognized by the majority of the WWE Universe.
Usually, superstars who come in with experience in TNA, now Global Force Wrestling, and other promotions, they get plugged into NXT in an effort to build their stock. Why the WWE didn’t give Bennett a chance down there in the first place is the real question? It certainly worked for Bobby Roode and Samoa Joe. Mike and Maria have not been seen much time on SmackDown Live recently. If the WWE isn’t going to use him properly, give him a chance to build momentum in developmental with a talented roster.
7 Called Up – Aleister Black
While coming into the WWE with a lot of momentum as Tommy End, he has quickly risen in popularity since debuting in NXT earlier this year. Aleister Black has already put on some quality bouts with Bobby Fish and Kyle O’Reilly separately. He also continued to maintain his hot streak in a win over Hideo Itami at TakeOver: Brooklyn III not long ago. With his move set and his dark persona, he could be quite the hit on the main roster.
He’s already seemingly gotten some recognition from the WWE officials. Black was able to make a main roster debut with a win over Curt Hawkins during a taped episode of WWE Main Event during the promotion’s European tour at the time. While it might not technically count since it was Main Event, it is a sign that he’s already on the minds of officials. Maybe Raw can turn to black the night after WrestleMania 34.
6 Sent Down – Zack Ryder
Sure, it would be a little bit damaging for the SmackDown Live tag team division if the WWE decided to break up the Hype Bros. However, the WWE likely has something big planned for Mojo Rawley. They did give him the win during the Andre the Giant Memorial Battle Royal at WrestleMania 33 earlier this year. While it’s not a strong case for a Rawley singles push, the WWE doesn’t seem to have a long-term plan for the Hype Bros team.
At the same time, Zack Ryder is someone who is continuously wasted on the main roster. This isn’t necessarily a new problem. Aside from his 2011 rise to fame with a run as the United States Champion, the WWE has mostly kept Ryder on the lower-tier of the match card. It’s insulting really. Maybe Ryder can be better utilized to have better matches in NXT with superstars who could use a match with an established WWE veteran to help build their stock as well.
5 Called Up – Johnny Gargano
This one actually also means the call-up of another NXT superstar in the spring of 2018. But let’s start by explaining how the WWE can bring up Johnny Gargano to the main roster. Having spent most of his time in NXT in the DIY tag team with Ciampa, he’s certainly starting to show his abilities in being a singles competitor. Although, this isn’t necessarily surprising to anyone who has seen his work in the independent circuit. Gargano would actually be a perfect fit to provide some more depth in the WWE 205 Live and the Cruiserweight Division. There was a time he was announced to be on the show, but neither he nor Ciampa actually appeared.
Let’s say the night after WrestleMania, Gargano announces his intent to challenge for the Cruiserweight Championship. But he would come up short thanks to interference from his former tag partner in Ciampa. The latter would be jealous of him being called up first and they can continue their rivalry that started in the moments after losing the NXT Tag Team Championship at TakeOver: Chicago earlier this year.
4 Sent Down – Sami Zayn
This is certainly not a matter of Sami Zayn having done anything wrong in the main roster. In fact, he’s essentially done his best to turn the lemons he’s been given by WWE’s creative team into a drinkable lemonade. It’s not his fault if his supplier is only providing him with some pretty crappy lemons. Zayn’s abilities in the ring are being wasted in the WWE main roster by a team that doesn’t know what to do with.
While this could be building into a long-term storyline of Zayn having a WrestleMania moment similar to Daniel Bryan at WrestleMania XXX, the concept seems to have lost its steam. Again, not Zayn’s fault. But the WWE should give him a chance to have quality matches, even if it means going down to NXT for a little to help build stock for the newcomers to Florida. For those who question this move, ask yourself if you would rather he do nothing and eventually be released for a lack of creative options?
3 Called Up – Adam Cole (w/ Bobby Fish and Kyle O’Reilly)
One has to assume that his run in NXT is going to be pretty brief. Maybe long enough to hold the NXT Championship up until the 2018 WrestleMania weekend and a few cups of coffee. But he’s quickly made himself a big name in Ring of Honor and overseas in Japan. He’s one of the few wrestlers never to work regularly on television (i.e. WWE, TNA) and be as popular as he is with pro wrestling fans.
Cole is likely going to have his own club in NXT with the alliance he has formed with Bobby Fish and Kyle O’Reilly. One has to hope that this group can make the jump to the main roster at the same time to carry over the momentum they will likely build up over the next few months in Florida. The WWE could have something special with those three being called up as the next dominant faction.
2 Sent Down – Dolph Ziggler
It’s hard to get excited about anything the WWE has planned for Dolph Ziggler. Here is a WWE superstar who has done so much good in terms of character development and in-ring skill since he split away from the rest of the Spirit Squad. He’s had a lot of accomplishments since his repackaging in 2009 and re-debut in the main roster in 2010. The positives include two world championships and winning the Intercontinental Championship five times.
But for every good things Ziggler has had in his time with WWE, he’s had about three or four bad storylines – like the on-screen relationship with Lana, which ended when she announced her engagement to Rusev. With a lack of excitement over what the main roster writers have in store, it’s worth lobbying for a run in NXT. At least the matches will be better and he’ll have the main event treatment that he deserves.
1 Called Up – Drew McIntyre
If the lesser talented members of the 3MB faction can have spots on the WWE’s main roster, than it shouldn’t be much longer before Drew McIntyre makes his return to either Raw or SmackDown Live. After his departure in 2014, McIntyre was able to rediscover himself on the independent circuit and with a short stint in Impact Wrestling. Fans saw Drew Galloway become the kind of main event star who some thought was potentially there in WWE back in 2009 as Vince McMahon’s “Chosen One.”
The perfect storyline would be Triple H introducing him the night after WrestleMania. As a part of how the WWE can phase Mr. McMahon out of television permanently, The Game can recall how McMahon may have found the Chosen One, but didn’t know how to properly set him up to live up to the hype. Hopefully, the second time will be the charm for McIntyre, who can now arguably live up to the hype as a WWE Champion.